Thursday, December 03, 2009

Today -100: December 4, 1909: Of women in unions and hats in museums

Striking shirtwaist makers marched to NY City Hall to protest the “insults, intimidations, and... abuses” of strikers by the police, including arresting them but not the “toughs” hired by the employers after skirmishes. Mayor George McClellan, Jr. (son of the Civil War general, if you hadn’t guessed) says he’ll look into it.

The NYT attempts to explain, with maximum condescension, why the idea of union appeals to the shirtwaist makers (most of whom are women, many of them Italian or Jewish immigrants): equal pay, sure, but also “the idea of sacrificing themselves, if necessary, for the sake of a principle they believe for the good of the weaker worker... appeals to them powerfully. For they are women. The idea, too, of this vague and powerful protector, ‘the union,’ as they think of it, draws them into it.” “For them the strike is a sort of gay holiday, all mixed in with a vague and pleasant new worship, with lots of speeches, lots of dancing, much running to and fro, some danger, and a very great deal of excitement.”

A letter by a H. H. D. Klinker objects to men wearing hats in the Museum of Art and suggests a conspicuous sign advising them “that they should no more wear their hats in the Museum than in a church or theatre.”

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